ORBzine - Movie Reviews Xmas 2001 Special

Mad Max

George Miller delivered this low-budget post-apocalyptic action flick, which spawned a horde of cliched imitators.

The film opens with a car chase across the desolate roads of Australia. The police are no match for the crazy driver - except for Max [Mel Gibson], a fresh-faced rookie who looks about twelve years old. The Police Department's conflict with a rowdy biker gang boils over into a frenzy of violence. Eventually Max decides to get even ...

  • Mad Max 2
  • Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
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  • Mad Max 2

    This is one of the few sequels that surpasses the original. Small wonder, since George Miller 's film was so successful that he was given a much bigger budget for the second one.

    Now retired from the police, our hero Max wanders the wastelands with his V8 interceptor and his dog. We are introduced to him though a car chase reminiscent of the one at the start of the first film, with Max being pursued by a gang of brigands led by Vernon Wells [ Inner Space].

    In the desert, running short of fuel, he discovers an oil refinery. However, it is besieged by brigands led by the Great Humungous - who has the mask and scarred head of Jason Voorhees, the muscles of a weightlifter and the euro-trash accent of a James Bond villain. A far cry from the biker scum of the first film!

    Max offers to help the besieged people, in exchange for fuel for his car. He is helped by a feral pre-teen boy and a nameless Warrior Woman [ Virginia Hey ].

  • Mad Max
  • Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
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  • Barb Wire

    This is a post-apocalyptic action-movie update of Casablanca. In a cliched disutopian future Los Angeles, Barb Wire [ Pamela Anderson Lee ] is a bounty-hunter and niteclub owner. She bounces around in leather and mascara, all cleavage and Snake Plissken hiss, martial arts scenes doubled by Dana Hee.

    Her life is disrupted when Freedom Fighter and ex-lover Temuera Morrison [ The Hangman's Daughter ] comes to town and asks for her help. He is being pursued by evil Nazi Steve Railsback [ X-Files ], a Federal Government agent.

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  • Gattaca

    Like the other three films reviewed this month, this is set in the near future. This is where the similarity ends. While they are set in apocalyptic disutopias, this is a vision of the future where science and progress rule supreme. However, this is not to say that there are no problems.

    Ethan Hawke plays a young man whose lifelong dream was becoming an astronaut. However, in a world where genetics is the ruling science he is part of the underclass - a natural birth, an In-Valid. It is discovered he has a one percent chance that he will have a heart condition. Thus he is blacklisted, fit only to work as a janitor alongside Ernest Borgnine [who is excellent in this cameo]. His only option is to take on a new identity, that of the crippled but genetically perfect Jude Law [ A.I.].

    Hawke's extensive precautions to pass himself off as part of the genetically-engineered uber-class acquit him well. He is booked to travel on the next rocket to Titan, but one of the senior management is murdered. The detectives discover Hawke's genetic traces, and assume he was the murderer. He has to avoid detection until the space launch at the end of the week.

    As well as the conflict within society, the film also shows conflict on a more personal level, such as Hawke's conflict with his father [Elias Koteas - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ] and his genetically enhanced brother. The character development also includes his relationship with Uma Thurman .

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  • Clan of the Cave Bear

    This is quite a reasonable adaption of the ultra-thick novel by Jean M. Auel , narrated by Salome Jens

    Some time in the Stone Age, a young Cro-Magnon girl is found and raised by a clan of Neanderthals. She grows up to be very photogenic, played as a teenager by Nicole Eggert and as a twenty-something by Daryl Hannah . Because she is a different race, she is more intelligent and independent - which leads to conflict with the clan's leader [Harry Hamlin - Clash of the Titans ].

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  • Day of the Dead

    This is the final part of George A. Romero 's Living Dead trilogy. Like the others it centres around a small group of survivors besieged by the zombies - here a group of soldiers and scientists trapped in a remote bunker in Florida. The film begs the question, who are the real monster? The zombies, the trigger-happy military or the scientists?

    The cast are a stereotypical bunch of cliches. The protagonist, the token female, is a beautiful woman. The military types are in their thirties - too old to be low-level rookie troopers, and too half-assed to be an elite unit.

    The film centres around the conflict between the human characters, and the psychological disintigration of the group. However, it is quite badly handled - especially when compared with Blair Witch Project & Cube .

    The climax is, of course, a major zombie chow-down. It is established that the zombies are driven by the reptile part of the brain. Their heart and other internal organs are irrelevant, and only a head-shot will kill them. The characters know this, but persist in wasting their limited ammunition by spraying the zombies at hip height on full automatic.

  • Night of the Living Dead (1967)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1990s)
  • Dawn of the Dead
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  • Golden Voyage of Sinbad

    Sinbad [John Philip Law - Barbarella, Space Mutiny ] is hired to sail on a quest for the Fountain of Destiny. Along with his crew and the masked Grand Vizier who hired them is Caroline Munro , a slave-girl who is destined to accompany them.

    However, the eeevil Tom Baker [ Dr Who ] is after the fountain as well. Baker attacks Sinbad with a host of magical creatures, courtesy of Ray Harryhausen . Every time Baker uses his magicks he starts to age rapidly. Since he is relatively young at the start of the movie, one has to assume that he never used his magicks until the events at the start of the movie!

  • Sinbad the Sailor
  • 7th Voyage of Sinbad
  • Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger
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  • Toy Story

    This film is, as the title suggests, a story about toys. Woody the cowboy [Tom Hanks - Apollo 13 ] is the favoured toy of a young boy called Andy, and the leader of Andy's toys. However, Woody's position as leader and Andy's favourite is undermined with the arrival of a new toy - Buzz Lightyear [Tim Allen - Galaxy Quest].

    The two rivals end up going on an odyssey together. Buzz is completely unaware that he is a toy, and carries on [completely straight-faced] about how he is a Space Ranger and his mission is to save the universe!

    This was the first really successful animation using computer graphics, courtesy of Robert Zemeckis . While the human beings are somewhat cartoonish, the toys themselves are quite realistic.

  • Toy Story 2
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  • Hellraiser

    This is one of the first adaptations of the work of English horror writer Clive Barker . Unlike the later adaptions, this is true to its roots: most of the film is set in a house in the suburbs of an English city.

    A ruthless man opens a magical puzzle-box and unleashes the Cenobites, a horde of mutilated demonic leather-clad BDSM freaks led by Pinhead [Doug Bradley - Nightbreed ]. They rip his skin off and leave his undead husk under the floorboards of his house. Later, the house is occupied by his American brother [Andrew Robinson - Star Trek: DS9 ], his sister-in-law and niece.

    The undead husk was having an affair with his sister-in-law. He recruits her to help him regenerate himself. However, that requires her to bring men to the house and murder them. The teenage daughter realises that her evil stepmother is up to no good. However, can she defeat the murderers and outwit the Cenobites?

    Robinson's presence seems merely an attempt to make a very English film more accessible to the American audience. However, Robinson is a great actor and shows his talents here to wonderful effect.

  • Hellraiser 2
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  • Antz

    This is a CGI animation set in an ant colony. Zee [Woody Allen - ] is a neurotic worker-ant with issues about his insignificance. In comparison with this we have the eevil General Mandible [Gene Hackman - Enemy of the State, Superman ] and his sidekick Colonel Cutter [Christopher Walken - Prophecy II ]. The General has provoked a war with the neighbouring Termite Army, the first stage in his coup against the Queen.

    The Queen's daughter Princess Bala [ Sharon Stone ] is betrothed to Mandible. Unhappy with this fate, she goes to the Worker Bar and meets Zee. He is so taken with her that he swops place with his Soldier-Ant buddy Weaver [Sylvester Stallone - Demolition Man].

    As a worker, Weaver gets to meet Zee's buddy Azteca [ Jennifer Lopez ]. Zee, however, is sent to attack the Termites. He survives and becomes a war hero, but things take a turn for the worse and he ends up on the run with his Princess. She's a stuck-up bitch. Yes, it's a bit like Princess Leia and ... well, Woody Allen.

    They trek around outside the world, searching for Insectopia, and bump into some entertaining examples of other insect species. This allows us a wonderful ants' eye view of the world.

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  • Night of the Living Dead (1967)

    Since this is pretty much the original zombie movie, the easiest comparisons are with other zombie movies and the 1990s remake.

    The protagonist is an African-American man. He isn't exactly Tony Todd [ Candyman ], but he certainly takes care of business. To a 1967 audience, a negro killing caucasian zombies may well have seemed controversial. The female lead isn't a 1990s woman like Patricia Tallman , she's a weepy type who spends most of the film catatonic. A pity, because the movie relies on tense characterization.

    Unlike most zombie movies, here George A. Romero attempts to explain the resurrection of the dead - Space Radiation!

    The zombies themselves are realistically frightening. The movie is set in a Rural area, and one must remember that 20 zombies can each walk at 3mph over rough ground ...

  • Night of the Living Dead (1990s)
  • Dawn of the Dead
  • Day of the Dead
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  • Mysterious Island

    This is a decent adaption of the so-so book by Jules Verne . The only real change, which makes a dull story more watchable, is the inclusion of female characters. This is a nice adventure yarn in brilliant technicolor, quite enjoyable really.

    The story is set during the American Civil War. Some Union soldiers escape from Confederate captivity and fly off in a hijacked hot-air balloon. They end up stranded on a desert island filled with Ray Harryhausen beasties.

    Herbert Lom [Pink Panther ] pops up in the second half as a famous Verne character.

  • 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
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  • First Men In The Moon

    This is a somewhat dubious adaption of the novel by HG Wells , made in 1961. It starts with an International space mission to the Moon, which discovers a Union Jack and a letter dated 1899.
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  • Young Sherlock Holmes

    Barry Levinson directed this in 1985.

    Holmes and Watson meet as boarders at a Public School in London. They investigate a series of mysterious deaths and uncover a cult of fanatics and a studio set that belongs in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

    The film is filled with blatant references to Arthur Conan Doyle 's books - Inspector Lestrade, the deerstalker hat and the pipe all have cameos. Sophie Ward plays Holmes' love interest, and Freddie Jones is the mentor.

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  • Spawn

    This is the infamous adaption of the popular comic by Todd McFarlane It lacks the depth and style of the comic, and probably put the comics-adaption industry back by several years.

    Michael Jai White is Lt Colonel Al Simmons, an African-American hitman working for shady American Intelligence boss Martin Sheen [ Project ALF ]. Simmons realises the boss is up to no good, but before he can quit he is killed by Sheen and Agent Priest [ Melinda Clarke , who looks sexy as hell in her leather catsuit].

    Simmons awakes five years later in an alley in his home city. His skin has been burned off, and he is a down-and-out. His widow has married his partner [DB Sweeney - Strange Luck ], who is now Sheen's PR man. Well, SOMEONE has to talk to journalist Robia La Morte .

    Satan is a gigantic CGI dog-faced thing who lives in a CGI cave full of CGI flames, so he gets The Violator [John Leguzamio - Carlito's Way] to represent him on Earth. Leguzamio is excellent, especially since he's padded out to look like an evil version of Danny DeVito.

    Simmons has been brought back from the dead to be the General of Satan's army. He has supernatural powers, thanks to extensive CGI SPFX, which he uses for butchering his former co-workers. Is this a classic re-telling of the eternal battle of good against evil? Nope, it's just the glorification of a man who gets fired from his job and decides to go postal.

    All in all, the film isn't terrible as such - it merely has blatant flaws such as a complete lack of character development. The stylish presentation of the end credits imply that the film was intended to be closer to The Crow . Well, in all fairness it's not Batman & Robin ... there's no Uma Thurman .

  • Batman
  • Superman
  • X-Men
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  • Crazies, The

    George A. Romero delivers a film about a population driven to insanity, the military struggling to control the situation and a small group of survivors try to get to safety. No, it's not another zombie movie, and it's not Romero's best film either.

    A small town in the USA has been accidentally contaminated with a virus developed as a weapon by the US military. This plot was used in far superior films such as Cassandra Crossing and Impulse, which blatantly stole the idea from here. The US stormtroopers are clad in black gas-masks and white protective suits, which makes their battles with the locals more than a little reminiscent of Return of the Jedi .

    The view of the US military is influenced by the events of the era when this film was produced - 1973, when the anti-Vietnam movement held sway and the Watergate scandal had removed faith in the American Government.

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  • Theatre of Death

    Christopher Lee [ The Wicker Man ] inherits the Theatre of Death, an establishment that specialises in gruesomely lifelike stage shows. An eerie manipulator, he hypnotises one of his actresses into a state where it seems she will go through with the killing ...

    Julian Glover [ For Your Eyes Only ] is a young doctor who serves as the police pathologist. He is investigating a serial killer: several young women have been murdered - stabbed in the neck, with very little blood at the scene ...

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  • Pleasantville

    It's the 1990s, and siblings Tobey Maguire [ Spiderman ] and Reese Witherspoon are sucked into a black&white TV show set in the 1950s. Quite how or why this happens is neither here nor there.

    The film starts by contrasting the apparent perfection of the 1950s with the doom-and-gloom of the 1990s. The 1990s kids had a single mother, while in the 1950s are perfect parents William H. Macy [Fargo] and Joan Allen . However, there is trouble in paradise, just beneath the surface. Mother has hidden yearnings for Jeff Daniels ...

    Monotone things start to gain colour. The town council, headed by JT Walsh [ Dark Skies ] decides to clamp down on developments. We see the good side of the 1990s, and the bad side of the 1950s. Signs saying No Coloreds start to appear. The 1990s pair stir up dissent among the local teens, including Danny Strong and Marc Blucas [ Buffy ].

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